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July 14, 2009 

FDA Official Supports Livestock Antibiotic Limit

Statement by Margaret Mellon, Union of Concerned Scientists

WASHINGTON (July 14, 2009) — A top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official yesterday opposed the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to pigs, cattle and chickens to promote growth. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), this practice leads to the development of bacteria that are immune to antibiotics, undermining their effectiveness in treating human diseases.

The official, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, was testifying at a hearing before the House Rules Committee on a bill that would cancel several uses of antibiotics used in farm animals. The bill is sponsored by New York Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter.

It was the first time since the late 1970s that an FDA official has publicly advocated limiting the use of antibiotics in agriculture. The agency has the authority to cancel specific uses, but Dr. Sharfstein did not offer a timetable for doing so.

Margaret Mellon, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Program, also testified before the committee. Below is a statement by Mellon.

"Livestock production accounts for about 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States each year. Penicillin, tetracycline and other drugs that doctors prescribe to treat human disease are routinely fed to pigs, cattle and chickens to promote growth and protect them in overcrowded, stressful living conditions.

"When bacteria are routinely exposed to antibiotics, they develop resistance to them and become 'superbugs' that can move from animals to humans through food, air and water. Treating a patient infected by a superbug with an ineffective drug can lead to a more serious illness, and if none of the available antibiotics work, resistance becomes a matter of life and death.

"Given there are no new antibiotics under development, unless we preserve the antibiotics we have, the age of miracle antibiotics could come to an end. To make sure that doesn't happen, the FDA should limit antibiotic use in agriculture whenever possible and cancel the use of those antibiotics used in human medicine in livestock production for growth promotion, feed efficiency and routine disease prevention.

"We're encouraged by Dr. Sharfstein's comments at the hearing, and commend Representative Slaughter for shining a light on this critical issue. We urge the FDA to take action to curb this dangerous practice. "


The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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